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Virginia governor declares state of emergency in advance of pro-gun rally near state Capitol

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia from January 17-21, amid plans by pro-gun groups to hold a rally at the Capitol on January 20. Northam said law enforcement officials have identified "credible threats of violence surrounding the event," including white nationalist rhetoric and plans by out-of-state militia members to attend.

The measure will temporarily ban guns from the Capitol grounds in Richmond. 

Northam and Democrats, who recently took the majority in both chambers of the Virginia legislature, are expected to pass a number of gun control bills. Last week, they voted to ban guns in the state Capitol building.

Pro-gun groups have been planning a "Lobby Day" at the Capitol in Richmond on Monday, January 20. But Northam said Virginia law enforcement agencies are "seeing threats of violence, threats of armed confrontation and assault on our Capitol."

"These are considered credible and serious threats," Northam said. "This intel comes from mainstream channels both off line and online such as alternative dark web channels used by white nationalists outside of Virginia. These are fueled by misinformation and conspiracy theories. No one wants another incident like the one we saw in Charlottesville in 2017. We will not allow that mayhem and violence."

A woman was killed and dozens more injured in Charlottesville in August 2017 when a white supremacist rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters during a white nationalist rally.

Northam said a unified command with State Police, Capitol Police, Richmond police and first responders has been set up. 

Capitol Police chief Anthony Pike said the Capitol Square will be closed Friday starting at 5 p.m. and will reopen at 7 a.m. daily through the weekend with two access points through pedestrian gates. 

"City law enforcement officials have coordinated for weeks to ensure a peaceful gathering," said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. "Our approach Monday will be the same — we will ensure the right to free speech. Exercising your rights is fundamentally American."

Virginia Democrats have said they plan to make gun control a priority. An assault weapons ban, red flag laws and universal background checks have all been proposed. 

Republicans oppose the new gun measures, and municipalities across the state have declared themselves sanctuary cities for the Second Amendment and will refuse to use their resources to prosecute any state gun laws they deem unconstitutional. Virginia Beach, where 12 people were killed in a shooting rampage at a municipal building in May 2019, last week adopted a resolution declaring itself a "Second Amendment Constitutional City."   

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